A few weeks ago, I received an email from the Rev. George Roberts about an upcoming new ministry happening at St. James’, Farmington, geared towards individuals with special needs and their families. And, not only was this a new ministry complete with inclusive music, scripture readings, and opportunities to get to know each other, but this whole idea was the brainchild of a high school Girl Scout, Olivia, George’s daughter.
The first service was held on Sunday, February 16 in the parish hall since there was more open space for individuals to move around, which allowed for this organic community to embody the experience however they needed.
When I arrived, I was greeted by a parishioner of St. James’, and asked to sign in and create a name tag.
I then found Olivia and asked her about the program. “It is the first program for Movements in Faith,” Olivia said. “Which is a movement and song-based program for people with special needs.”
Movements in Faith is a project of Olivia’s for her Gold Award for The Girl Scouts, the most prestigious award that Girl Scouts can earn. Olivia is set to receive her Gold Award this June.
“So once I complete this program and then, of course, [Movements in Faith] will keep running. And when I graduate in two years, someone else will take this over. Which is part of the requirements, that the program is sustainable,” she said.
Olivia’s sister has special needs, which inspired her to create this program.” I really know she loves coming to church. I want [the program] to be open, so everyone would feel welcome here. And I hope they have fun, too,” she said.
Olivia’s father, George, shared his pride. “I’ve really been proud of the way that she’s drawn on her own faith and her own experience of church to do something creative, fun and inspired by her own experiences of having a sibling with special needs and knowing [it can be a] challenge to be in community.”
“For a gold award, she could have done really anything,” said George. “She certainly could have picked “easier” things to do that weren’t so intensive. She’s put in a huge amount of work and thought and time and energy to making all of this come together… It’s been really wonderful to see.”
The room was set up with chairs facing a Worship Communication Board, which Olivia updated throughout the service. Also up front was a small band, made up of a husband and wife duo, congregants of St. James’. Behind the chairs, in an open space, was a circle laid out on the floor, a table with information on Movements in Faith, a table with song books, and a table full of various instruments.
“I have a worship bulletin,” Olivia said showing me the laminated booklet. “We do a circle activity, which is the movement part. And then everyone picks instruments and we go sit down in the chairs or on the floor. During the entire time, I have scarves. If anyone would like to move around some more, they can do that. And then if anyone needs to actually take a break and have some time to themselves, they can go in the library, which is open so they can just sit out for a few minutes or however long.”
The flow of the afternoon was just like that. We began with an icebreaker in a circle, each greeting one another and sharing our names and extending our scarf to each other, until everyone in the circle was connected. Then Olivia invited us all to grab an instrument from the table and make our way to the chairs for a song and prayer.
We sang, we played music, and then we listened to scripture and a member of the community, Don, shared a short and simple message.
Then, we played more music!
It was definitely an inviting and music-filled gathering in the parish hall. Some members had even kept their scarves from the icebreaker and were dancing. Olivia, along with some of her friends, stood up front with the band and sang the whole time.
“It’s really been wonderful to see how well the community of St. James embraces this ministry,” said George. “There are tons of St. James people here today, and we have a couple of other special needs families in our congregation. One of them was here today.”
The worship service brought in around 45 people, many of whom were from the St. James’ community, but not all.
“I think it’s going to be a growing [program]. There’s a lot of room for us to continue to support the ministry,” said George. “The special needs community will not only start to know more about this ministry, but will be more and more comfortable. I think a lot of people [in the special needs community] get burned. I think when you have a child, especially the special needs, you get very protective. So, the commitment of this congregation is to continue to support this ministry and the people who come through our doors.”
Movements in Faith plans to gather the third Sunday of every month in the parish hall of St. James’, to create a welcoming space for families and persons with special needs. The next one gathers on March 15, 2020.
“I just really like to see people enjoying themselves and having fun,” said Olivia. “I know there are people at this church who have special needs who don’t come to church because their family might not feel comfortable with it. And I’d really like everyone to be able to feel included in everything, especially in worship, and being a part of a community and faith. I think that’s really important.”